If you didn’t already have enough to be nervous about, just consider the early hours of 2016. January 1 brought above freezing temperatures to Antarctica, below freezing temperatures to Damascus, Dubai quite literally was overshadowed in a fiery inferno and Munich was blanketed by terror alerts. That was all before dawn in the Western hemisphere.
The world in 2016 is a precarious, fragmented and wildly unpredictable place. The stakes are high as we face the mother-load of geopolitical blowback. The Eurasia Group 2016 top political risks summaries how intra-, inter-, and extra-state conflicts have reached unprecedented levels – more pervasive than at any point since the end of World War II. The world’s four largest economies – the United States, China, Japan and Germany – reluctantly accept responsibility for crisis management, and disagree on how their polities should combat mounting global threats. Traditional alliances are strained while the inequality that has divided the world grows wider. All this, as the failed strategies that got the world into trouble in the first place remain firmly in place. We can thank financial lobbyists for that.
Europe has been torn apart by a refugee crisis that has transformed the tiny Greek island of Lesvos into a 21st Century Ellis Island. The U.S. Federal Reserve interest rate hike may work, although that will be hard to measure when China’s protectionist trading software automatically shuts down their stock market when selling gets frenzied, causing panic across Western markets as it did at the start of 2016 trading on Monday. Falling oil prices have shaken Latin American countries to their core and made Vladimir Putin more unpredictable than ever. If that isn’t enough, consider that North Korea just tested a hydrogen bomb, Turkey’s Erdogan is closing in on his ambition of an executive presidency and Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Bin Salam made the blood feud with Iran a war front. All of them play a critical role in Levant’s conflict, which enters a crucial year that could control the Syrian civil war or make it far worse.
The think-speak of government proclamations asking for calmness are opaque. Citizens no longer trust governments. Which explains the rise of populism from Donald Trump in the United States, to Marine Le Pen in France, and ISIL across the Middle East. Only Pope Francis has made a determined and considered call upon world leaders to change course with responsible and pluralistic policies that mitigate an ailing planet. Many respect him but few seem to be listening.
As the conflicts of 2015 intensify in 2016, maintaining the status quo is no longer an option. In fact, everything must change for everything to stay the same. Platitudes of concern are no longer enough for disenfranchised groups across the world struggling to get ahead. Young, unemployed men are easily recruited to dangerous causes and students facing paralyzing debt burdens cannot begin their adult lives with dignity and promise. The post-capitalist order of things has ushered in a violent reorganization where a revolution of technology displaces workers, monitors our activities, consumes us with mindless distractions and encourages hollow consumption to continue lubricating a globalized engine of commerce. There is a revolution against the “business as usual” ethos and leaders across the globe are too timid to admit we’ve entered a World War Order. The entire world is fighting to protect “our way of life” but the trouble with that is so is everyone else. The more combative nations become, the more nationalistic, the less likely we are to peacefully redress global clashes of civilization.
Our world is desperate for critical thinking and innovative problem solving and this should be the year we find the courage to inventively solve an unusually wide constellation of problems. New solutions to old problems are what we must strive for. What’s missing today is a meaningful conversation about global priorities that build the future we hope to have. For everyone.
2016 may be a terrible year. But without a serious change of course, 2017 will be far worse.